Second Review of Wrath James White - Succulent Prey
After a number of years reading horror you begin to feel that you have pretty much seen it all. There's nothing left that will scare you or make you wince. Nothing an author can write that you will disturb you. Zombies - been there, ate brains with them. Vampires - heck they're pretty much PG these days. Witchcraft's gone cuddly, demons are just like regular people etc, etc.
Even serial killers, with their advantage of being all too plausible, are sanitised somewhat - Hannibal Lector, Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers - are now more friends than feared enemies.
Not so when you pick up a Wrath James White novel however. He still has the ability to unsettle you big time. He does this not only by the extreme violence of his books, but also by the context. The main character in this book is a cannibalistic sex-maniac - and, believe me, this is going to let you in for some pretty gory bits. Even for a long time reader/watcher of gory horror.
He's achieved this by making his monster more than just a straightforward monster. Joseph Miles is a giant of a man, six and a half feet of sculpted muscle. He's also the only survivor of a child sex killer - suffering repeated rapes and stabbed over a dozen times. As an adult he is consumed by his urges to cannibalise his sexual partners.
But he is not willing to give in totally to these urges, he wants to fight against becoming a total monster. He sees the attacker of his ten-year-old self to be his salvation. If he can reach the man (tricky as he's in a maximum-security psychiatric unit) and kill him, it will free him to become a normal human being.
As a plot is may seem a little hackneyed - the kind of thing that would feature in many pulp vampire or werewolf stories. But in many ways this is the point. Miles is attempting to reason away his insanity, to find an external reason for his condition - something that was done to him. Something he can cure.
White has brought a sick world into sharp focus. He may have focused the action on one twisted individual but, through Miles' visits to sex-clubs and Sex Addicts' self help groups, the author has provided him a supporting cast of, in their own ways, equally broken characters.
In his own way, even his college lecturer is as needy - being willing to deliberately withhold information from a police investigation or even mislead the detectives to give him a chance at testing his own theories on aberrant behaviour.
This is what horror needed after years of dumbing-down on the scare-front. This book is a definite confirmation of horror as adult fiction. No teenage-friendly undead romances here. This is flesh-ripping to the extreme, gore-splattering scares! Great stuff.